House panel considers ending personal exemption for vaccines
OLYMPIA – With conflicting testimony on whether the risk of measles is greater than the danger of the vaccine to prevent it, Washington legislators will have to wrestle with a difficult choice:
Protecting public health or respecting personal choice.
Current state law allows parents to refuse vaccinating their children for personal reasons, an exemption that is separate from those for religious or medical reasons.
With the House Health Care and Wellness Committee considering a bill to remove that personal exemption in the face of a measles outbreak in Clark County, supporters of the exemption filled the room and overflow spaces to defend it.
Clark County went from one case of measles to 50 in a month, Roy Magnusson, of the PeaceHealth System in Vancover, said even though the medical community was “working night and day” to contain the disease. Allowing people to refuse vaccinations for themselves or their children puts others at risks and ties up resources that can’t be used for other health problems, he said.
But the vaccine can cause a range of medical side effects like epileptic seizures, respiratory problems, asthma and in some cases death, Toni Bark, an Illinois physician, said.
“Vaccines are not safe and effective for everyone,” Bark said, and as many as 15 percent of the population can have problems. “It’s not one-sided. It’s not black and white.”
State Health Department Director John Wiesman and a panel of Washington physicians who gathered after the hearing argued that the number of people for whom vaccines aren’t safe – infants and people with health conditions or undergoing medical treatments that compromise their immune systems – are the ones who need to be protected from measles through greater vaccination rates in the general public.
As they consider whether to remove the personal exemption, committee members will have to reconcile two very different views.
Brian Hooker, who has a doctorate in bioengineering and said his son was injured by the measles vaccine as an infant, called it a flawed product that doesn’t provide lifetime immunity. There has been one reported death from measles in the United States from measles, but 105 from the measles vaccine, he said.
But Rupin Thakkar, a physician who testified in favor of removing the personal exemption, said that in countries without vaccinations, about one person in 1,000 who contract measles dies and research has not shown any causation between the vaccine and death. Kathy Lofy, another physician, said that while the system to report possible problems with vaccines does show deaths and other medical problems among vaccine recipients, that system doesn’t require a verified link between the medicine and the conditions.
Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, sponsor of the bill to remove the personal exemption for vaccines, said Washington would be following 33 other states in taking that action. He said he would support an amendment to tighten the religious exemption.
Opponents apparently want a perfect vaccine but that doesn’t exist, Harris said. “It’s not perfect. It’s science.”